Friday Nights

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It's Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her scruffy house in Fulham she observes two young women with small children, separate — struggling and plainly lonely — and decides to invite them in and see what happens. What happens is that these very different women, Eleanor, Paula and Lindsay, are joined by three more: Jules, Blaise and Karen. Together they make up one retired professional, one budding DJ, one frazzled wife, three mothers, three singletons and five working women. Slowly, gradually and despite ...
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2009 Paperback Very good () It's Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her scruffy house in Fulham she observes two young women with small children, separate-struggling ... and plainly lonely-and decides to invite them in and see what happens. What happens is that these very different women, Eleanor, Paula and Lindsay, are joined by three more: Jules, Blaise and Karen. Together they make up one retired professional, one budding DJ, one frazzled wife, three mothers, three singletons and five working women. Slowly, Read more Show Less

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2009 Paperback Very good Clean, tight, unmarked, () It's Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her scruffy house in Fulham she observes two young women with small ... children, separate-struggling and plainly lonely-and decides to invite them in and see what happens. What happens is that these very different women, Eleanor, Paula and Lindsay, are joined by three more: Jules, Blaise and Karen. Together they make up one retired professional, one budding DJ, one frazzled wife, three mothers, three singletons and five. Read more Show Less

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2009 Paperback Very good Paperback. () It's Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her scruffy house in Fulham she observes two young women with small children, ... separate-struggling and plainly lonely-and decides to invite them in and see what happens. What happens is that these very different women, Eleanor, Paula and Lindsay, are joined by three more: Jules, Blaise and Karen. Together they make up one retired professional, one budding DJ, one frazzled wife, three mothers, three singletons and five wor. Read more Show Less

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Overview

It's Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her scruffy house in Fulham she observes two young women with small children, separate — struggling and plainly lonely — and decides to invite them in and see what happens. What happens is that these very different women, Eleanor, Paula and Lindsay, are joined by three more: Jules, Blaise and Karen. Together they make up one retired professional, one budding DJ, one frazzled wife, three mothers, three singletons and five working women. Slowly, gradually and despite vast differences in background and circumstance, a group forms: a sorority of sorts, and a circle of friends.

It is only when Paula meets Jackson, an enigmatic, powerful and seductive man, that the bonds that have been so closely forged are put to the test; jealousies, rivalries, even infidelities threaten everything the women have between them, even their Friday nights. Harmony is eventually restored, but not without its price: Paula must confront some unsavory truths about her relationships; Karen must completely reevaluate her priorities in life; Blaise must meet new challenges; Eleanor must admit she needs help at home; Jules has some growing up to do; and Lindsay needs a little love in her life … With wit and warmth, Joanna Trollope explores the complexities, the sabotages, and the shifting currents of modern friendship.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Trollope has a deft touch. . . . This is a beautifully written, thoughtful and enjoyable read."
National Post

"It may be easy to dismiss Trollope's work as light reading for women, but that would be a mistake…. Friday Nights is a fine addition to Trollope's oeuvre."
Edmonton Journal

"Don't be too quick to dismiss this skillfully crafted novel as mere 'women's fiction' … men could learn a lot from some earnest perusal of books like these."
Washington Post

"What differentiates this novel from others of its ilk is Trollope's readable and unpretentious writing style, sparked by quietly revelatory observations of contemporary middle-class life…. What this novel does illuminate, in perceptive and intelligent prose, is the importance Trollope and her characters attach to the complicated business and pleasure that is friendship between women."
The Globe and Mail

“As subtle as Austen, as sharp as Brontë, Trollope’s brilliant!”
Mail on Sunday

Carolyn See
Don't be too quick to dismiss this skillfully crafted novel as mere "women's fiction." Men tend to scorn this stuff—to be seen reading it in public would be like wearing pantyhose to work. But men could learn a lot from some earnest perusal of books like these—about their own intrinsic power and, more vulgarly perhaps, their ability to score—because, despite their sincere protestations, women need men like lungs need air.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

When a British retiree invites two young single mothers from the neighborhood to her flat, a Friday night tradition begins. As their klatch widens, Trollope's memorable characters do more than just represent varying female predicaments: they develop as rich individuals who come to triumph over their pasts. Paula has a wary relationship with the married man who fathered their son, Toby: she must move on, yet stay in touch for Toby's sake. Struggling Lindsay was widowed before she gave birth, while her sister, Jules, is a careless aspiring nightclub DJ with a wild streak. Independent, put-together Blaise contrasts starkly with her often bedraggled business partner, Karen, who barely manages her role as mother and breadwinner. And then there is Eleanor, the catalyst for the gatherings, a no-nonsense older woman who, though full of wisdom and spunk, keeps her thoughts to herself unless asked. When a new man enters Paula's life, Trollope (Second Honeymoon) masterfully shows how work and romance can tip the scales in female friendships. The result is a careful and compelling examination of one man's insidious effect on a group of female friends, as memorable as it is readable. (May)

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Library Journal

Trollope (The Rector's Wife) excels at character development and realistic dialog, two talents displayed in this novel of various women drawn together-though not over a book club or knitting group, as in many other works. Retiree Eleanor often sees Paula and Lindsay, two harried young mothers, passing on the street and decides they should have time to relax. Paula and Lindsay, who have never met each other before, turn down Eleanor's offer of babysitting but are flustered enough to accept her invitation to visit her one Friday evening. The group soon expands to include Blaise, Eleanor's neighbor; Karen, Blaise's coworker; and Jules, Lindsay's younger sister. Trollope outlines each woman's history, deftly interweaving their individual stories with those of the new connections growing among them. When Paula begins dating Jackson Miller, the equilibrium of the group is altered, and as Jackson becomes a part of all of their lives, events occur that will change the group forever. Trollope's novel rings true, portraying the complexities of contemporary women's lives without sentimentality or melodrama. Recommended.
—Beth Lindsay

Kirkus Reviews
Trollope (Second Honeymoon, 2006, etc.) freshens up a tired chick-lit device, the woman's group, in this story about a group that falls apart when one of the members falls in love. Eleanor, a retired professional who never married, began the Friday night get-togethers years earlier when she noticed two young single mothers who separately looked lonely and invited them in to her home to meet each other. The father of Paula's son Toby never left his wife and family but pays Paula child support and occasionally visits Toby, now eight. Lindsay's husband died before six-year-old Noah was born. Lindsay's waiflike younger sister Jules, an aspiring DJ, begins to show up. So does Eleanor's neighbor Blaise, a business consultant who like Eleanor has chosen work over family. Blaise introduces her business partner Karen, married and struggling to balance her domestic responsibilities with her professional ambitions. The friends find comfort and support in the Friday nights spent talking and drinking wine. Then one Friday Paula arrives with her new beau Jackson, both to show him off and get her friends' approval. A pucklike figure, the charming if emotionally elusive Jackson insinuates himself into the group, triggering a mix of reactions. Lindsay resents that Paula ignores their previously close friendship for a man. Jules believes Jackson is going to give her a career. Her marriage foundering, Karen is sexually drawn to Jackson and mistakenly thinks he is interested in her. Both Blaise and Eleanor, women without other emotional ties, suffer the loss of the community they depend on. And Paula is too gaga over Jackson to pay attention to anyone else, including needy Toby. There are no villains orheroines here, just women-and men-trying to make sense of the limits that their choices and personalities have imposed on their lives. By the time Jackson slips away, or is pushed away by Paula, the characters have realigned, wiser and mostly happier. Insightful and reassuring if a little contrived.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307357663
  • Publisher: Random House of Canada, Limited
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Joanna Trollope is the author of fourteen highly-acclaimed bestselling contemporary novels. She has also written a study of women in the British Empire, Britannia's Daughters, and a number of historical novels. Joanna Trollope was born in Gloucestershire, and now lives in London. She was appointed OBE in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Toby’s mother said that when Eleanor came he’d have to go down to the ground floor and help her with the lift.

Toby said — sulkily, because he was angry with her for something he couldn’t quite put his finger on — ‘She doesn’t need help.’

His mother was standing in front of the mirror she had propped on top of a chest in her bedroom. She was arranging her hair in a complicated kind of knot, and she had a hairclip between her teeth.

Through it she said without looking at him, ‘Toby, this isn’t about need. It’s about manners.’

Toby kicked one foot clumsily against the other. Then he went out of his mother’s bedroom and banged the door shut and leaned against it. This door, his mother’s bedroom door, was one of only a few doors in the flat. There was just that door, and the front door and the door on the bathroom. The rest was just space. Upwards, outwards, sideways. Just space.

‘I live in a loft,’ Toby said to someone when he’d started his new school.

Several boys had stared at him, elaborately uninterested.

‘Whatever,’ they’d said.

‘I do,’ Toby had said to himself silently all that day. ‘I do.’ And then, ‘My father bought it.’

He had. Toby’s father had bought the loft two years ago, and had given it to Paula and Toby.

‘Conscience money,’ Paula’s friend, Lindsay, said.

Paula hadn’t replied. She put the photograph of Toby’s father on the black rattan chest between two of the huge high windows. It was a photograph taken on a boat, and Toby’s father was sitting on the roof of the cabin, and he was smiling. His feet were bare. The photograph did not, however, include Toby’s father’s wife and children who were, Toby knew, the reason why he and his mother lived in the loft on their own.

‘At least,’ Paula said sometimes to Toby, when she got very loving and then very angry, ‘at least you know who your father is.’

What she meant by that Toby hadn’t the faintest idea. And he certainly wasn’t asking. Occasionally, if he was alone in the flat while Paula went to buy a newspaper, or to collect the dry-cleaning, he would pick up his father’s photograph and lay it face down on the black rattan chest.

‘You just stay there, Gavin,’ he’d say. ‘You just do as you’re told.’

He sighed now. He wanted to be back in his mother’s bedroom, but he had made that impossible. He sighed again. The loft looked enormous in the gathering gloom, as if the walls and ceiling were quietly dissolving into the darkness, just melting away so that the night could pour in. Paula had lit her lamps, the lamps that threw light up into the dusky spaces, the lamps that let light fall on to her orange cushions and the rug striped like a zebra. She had put glasses on the low table between the sofas because people were coming, glasses and bowls of varnished Japanese rice crackers. People were coming. Eleanor was coming.

Toby pushed himself away from the door and stood up. He liked Eleanor. She walked unevenly with the help of a stick, and her hair was a white fuzz, and she talked to him as if he might have an opinion worth hearing. He also liked how his mother was with Eleanor, how she was calm and able to think about things that weren’t automatically going to upset her. Eleanor once said to Toby that the older she got the more she preferred the universal to the individual and personal. Toby had wondered if she was talking about galaxies.

He went slowly across the living space, avoiding, as usual, actually treading on the zebra rug. On the far side, a metal staircase resembling a ladder with perforated treads rose up in the dimness to the platform where Toby’s bed was, and his computer, and the toy theatre for which he collected puppets. He climbed the ladder slowly, a deliberate tread at a time, until he was out of the glow of the lamps and into the privacy of darkness. Then he sat down on the top step of the ladder and leaned forward, until his chin was on his knees, and he sighed again. Friday nights.

It was Eleanor who had started these Friday nights some years back, after observing from the bay window of her front room two young women endlessly trailing up and down that low-built street in Fulham. One had a baby and one had a small boy. They were never together, and they were never, as far as Eleanor could see, accompanied by a man.

Eleanor had seldom been accompanied by a man herself, but then she had never had a baby or a small boy either. Watching the young women, she had seen what she had so often seen during her long working years as an administrator in the National Health Service — manifestations of those brave coping mechanisms devised by people concerned not to be pitied for being alone. Being alone, Eleanor knew, was not in itself undesirable: it was the circumstances of aloneness that made it either a friend or a foe. And being alone with a small dependent child, and thus in a situation considered by the conventional world to be ideally a matter of partnership, was not a situation for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, Eleanor thought, watching them over the top of her reading glasses, the set of those young women’s shoulders indicated that their hearts, for all the outward show of managing, were very faint indeed.

One day, seeing them both approaching from opposite ends of the street, she had limped out on her stick into a sharp spring wind and offered to babysit. Both had been extremely startled, and both had demurred. The girl with the baby said she couldn’t leave him. The young woman with the small boy said she had no money. Eleanor said she didn’t want money. The young woman said, somewhat desperately, that she couldn’t handle obligation.

Eleanor leaned on her stick. She took off her reading glasses and let them hang round her neck on the scarlet cord she had attached in the hope of not losing them.

‘Then do me a favour,’ Eleanor said.

The girls waited, sniffing the wind.

‘Let me be the obliged one,’ Eleanor said. ‘Come and see me. Bring the children. Come on Friday night.’

They came, mute with awkwardness. The baby slept in his pram. Toby, aged almost three, squirmed on the sofa under a crocheted blanket and threaded his fingers endlessly in and out of the holes. Eleanor opened a bottle of Chianti, and poured out large glasses. She learned, with patience and difficulty, that Paula, Toby’s mother, could not, for some reason, live with Toby’s father. She learned that Lindsay, mother of baby Noah, had been widowed when her husband, a construction worker, had been crushed by a cement slab.

‘It was a year and three months ago,’ Lindsay said. She looked across at the pram. ‘I didn’t even know I was pregnant.’

‘Nobody should be required to bear that,’ Eleanor said.

Lindsay said quickly, still looking at the pram, ‘I’m not bearing it.’

They did not, either of them, seem to know how to arrange themselves, nor when to leave. At ten o’clock, Eleanor got stiffly to her feet and said that she was afraid it was her bedtime. They went out together, with the pram and the pushchair, hardly looking at her as they said goodbye. Eleanor, beginning on the nightly ritual of closing and locking and bolting, thought how often it was the case that a small good intention was snatched out of one’s hands by human conduct and inflated into something much larger and much less manageable. She regarded herself dispassionately in the looking glass let into the art deco coat stand in her hall.

‘Persevere,’ Eleanor told herself. ‘Keep going.’

Three Fridays later, they came again. Eleanor had seen Lindsay in the newsagent’s on the corner of the street, and Paula comforting Toby who had fallen out of his pushchair while struggling against being strapped in. They had not accepted with enthusiasm, but they had not refused either. Eleanor made pâté, and bought French bread, and chocolate, and juice for Toby in a small waxed carton with a straw. Lindsay brought six mauve chrysanthemums in a cone of cellophane printed to resemble lace. Toby climbed out of the crocheted blanket and drank his juice on his mother’s knee and stared at Eleanor’s hair. They had stayed until ten-fifteen, and Paula had been able to look straight at Eleanor for a few seconds and say uncertainly, ‘That was kind of you.’

Eleanor took her glasses off.

‘If kindness isn’t just a form of self-interest, thank you.’

A few weeks later, Lindsay asked if she could bring her younger sister. She looked at a point just past Eleanor’s left ear while she asked this, and the request became entangled in a long and confused explanation of how Lindsay’s parents’ inability to parent in any sustained way had left Lindsay as the only person in her sister’s life who could provide any mothering. It was an anxious task, Lindsay implied, since her sister seemed to have inherited her parents’ taste for a wild and irresponsible life. She was working in a club in Ladbroke Grove as a warm-up disc jockey when she could get the work, and Lindsay was worried about the ways in which she was spending her free time.

‘What is her name?’ Eleanor said.

‘Julia,’ Lindsay said.

‘Jules,’ Jules said, when she came. She had red-and-yellow striped hair and was wearing a flowered tea dress over thick black leggings and heavy laced-up boots. She had on purple lipstick. Toby stopped staring at Eleanor’s hair and stared at Jules instead. She stared back, her bitten-nailed hands wrapped round a mug of tea, which was all she would drink. She spoke to no one except to say, her eyes roving over the incoherent contents of Eleanor’s sitting room, ‘Cool room.’

Lindsay had come round to Eleanor’s house the next morning. She had a baby cyclamen in a plastic pot in her hand.

‘It’s a bit awkward,’ Lindsay said.

Eleanor smiled at Noah. He was lying in his pram, wearing a yellow knitted hat that made him resemble an egg in a cosy.

‘Oh?’

‘Jules, well, Jules doesn’t live in a world where people say please and thank you much.’

‘I’m used to that,’ Eleanor said.

‘I didn’t want you to think–’ Lindsay stopped.

‘I didn’t.’

Lindsay held out the cyclamen.

‘Please . . .’

Eleanor transferred her stick from one hand to the other.

‘I like cyclamen. But I don’t need an apology.’

‘Bah,’ Noah said from his pram.

Lindsay looked down at him.

‘Jules never pays him any attention. It’s as if she hasn’t seen him.’

Eleanor took the cyclamen out of Lindsay’s hand.

‘She’s seen him all right. Thank you for this.’

‘I don’t expect she’ll come again–’

‘No.’

‘I’m sorry–’

‘Do you know,’ Eleanor said, ‘these days, I seem to save getting upset for the big things.’

Almost two months later, Jules did come again. She wore a pink baby-doll chiffon top and a leather waistcoat and a miniskirt over jeans. She thrust a parcel wrapped in newspaper at Eleanor and went wordlessly off to the kitchen to make tea. In the newspaper parcel was a battered hand mirror made of black papier mâché inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

‘Thank you,’ Eleanor said, surveying herself in the clouded glass. ‘I am very touched.’

Jules shrugged. She looked round Eleanor’s determinedly unmodernized kitchen.

‘Yeah,’ she said approvingly.

It was that same evening that Toby slid down from Paula’s knee and went to stand two feet in front of Jules so that he could examine her properly. It was that same evening that Eleanor described her childhood, growing up in a tall red-brick house down the southern end of the Munster Road. Her bedroom had looked out on to the railway, and her world, she said, had been a linear one, defined by the number 14 bus route, with school in Putney at one end, and infrequent snatches of bright-lights life in Piccadilly at the other. It was that evening that Lindsay had broken down completely and out of the blue, and Jules had fled to the stairs where Eleanor found her steadily banging her head against the wall while chanting, ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ like a mantra. It was also the evening when, escorting them all out of her front door and down the negligible path to the pavement, Eleanor had seen her neighbour of two doors away, a well-dressed woman invariably in a professional-looking suit, pause in the process of unlocking her own front door to look at them all with more than passing interest, with, in fact, considerable curiosity. Eleanor looked back. The woman gave an irresolute smile. Eleanor nodded.

‘Who’s she?’ Paula said.

‘A Miss Campbell, I believe.’

‘Shush,’ Lindsay said. ‘She can hear you.’

Miss Campbell got her door open and pulled her key free.

‘She can,’ she said, and stepped inside.

The door closed. Jules was standing on the pavement, her fingers in her mouth.

‘Ask her too,’ she said.

‘I think,’ Eleanor said, ‘Miss Campbell doesn’t lack for a social life.’

‘I dare you,’ Jules said.

Blaise Campbell arrived some Fridays later, with a bottle of Riesling and a bunch of violets. Noah was complaining in his pram and Toby had taken the crocheted blanket under the table and was lying with his thumb in his mouth and his free hand grasping his mother’s foot. Lindsay and Paula watched Blaise enter Eleanor’s sitting room as if she were embarking on the unknown tests of an initiation rite.

‘We are not used,’ Eleanor said, ‘to wine as superior as this. Thank you.’

Blaise made a little deprecating gesture. Perhaps she was thirty-five, Paula thought, perhaps older. She had the polish of someone older but that might be because she was a lawyer or an accountant or one of those professionals who have to look older than they really are in order to look as if they know what they are doing. She watched Blaise step round Toby’s protruding foot in its blue-and-red slipper sock, and take a chair with the neatness of someone used to doing it in public. Paula looked at Blaise’s hands. Well cared for. Ringless. She had folded them on the table, as if she were in a meeting. Perhaps she was also used to meetings.

‘It’s very kind of you,’ Blaise said, ‘to include me.’ Eleanor smiled as her.

‘I expected you to turn me down.’

‘Oh no.’

Noah’s voice rose to a wail.

‘He’s hungry,’ Lindsay said. She went over to the pram, her skirt rucked up from where she had been sitting. ‘He’s always hungry.’

Blaise said politely, ‘How old is he?’

‘Eight months.’

Under the table, Toby’s hand left his mother’s foot and walked, crabwise, across the floor to one of Blaise’s feet. It was shod in a patent-leather pump. The hand considered the patent leather for a moment and tried a few experimental taps, and then it crept up Blaise’s foot and grasped her ankle.

‘Oh!’ Blaise said. Her eyes widened.

Paula glanced under the table.

‘Stop it, Toby.’

Toby, his thumb still in, paid no attention.

‘Let go!’ Paula said.

Blaise said hastily, ‘I don’t mind . . .’

‘Don’t you?’

‘No.’

Paula sat back. It was another tiny test.

‘Oh well then–’

Blaise looked round at them all. She cleared her throat. Paula tried to catch Lindsay’s eye, to mouth at her, ‘She thinks we’re a meeting!’

‘I probably shouldn’t ask this,’ Blaise said, ‘especially on my first visit, but — but can anyone join?’

Eleanor put a handful of old-fashioned hock glasses with green stems down on the table.

‘Within reason–’

‘It’s just,’ Blaise said, ‘it’s just that I’ve got a friend, I mean a colleague, someone I work with, who was terribly envious of me when I said where I was coming tonight. She says she almost never gets to talk to women, except at work, she’s just too busy.’ She looked round the circle. She said, a little louder, ‘She’s the breadwinner, you see. Her husband is an artist. They have two little girls. She simply made me promise I’d ask. So I have.’

Eleanor drew the bottle towards her. Nobody spoke. Toby let his hand slide down Blaise’s foot to her shoe. His hand was warm and slightly damp. He found he could stick it and unstick it to her shoe.

Eleanor pulled the cork out of the Riesling. She looked at Blaise. Blaise was looking at Lindsay and Lindsay was looking at Noah.

‘Well, bring her,’ Eleanor said. ‘Why not?’

*
• *

It was nice, Toby thought now, jiggling his feet on the metal ladder, when they used to go to Eleanor’s house. Once they went all the time, from the flat that had been home before they moved to the loft, the flat that Toby could still remember, especially in terms of texture and smell, in every detail. It was on the first floor of a house like Eleanor’s, a two-storey Edwardian house with a heavy frieze around the solid bay windows. The frieze was punctured with quatrefoils and painted with thick pink paint. Eleanor’s house, which Toby could see from their sitting-room window, was painted cream and the paint was flaking off. Their flat only had a sitting room and a bedroom and a kitchen and a bathroom like a cupboard that filled with steam in seconds. Paula hated it with a passion. Toby loved it, especially the decorative blisters on the wallpaper that you could pop with a fingernail and the china doorknobs that rattled in their base rings like loose teeth.

They lived in that flat for six years. It was the flat that Toby started school from. It was the flat that Paula went to her part-time job from, her job in a shop further east up the Fulham Road that specialized in uncompromising dark furniture from Indonesia. It was the flat that Gavin, Toby’s father, came to sometimes and, after minutes of supreme tension in the sitting room with Paula, removed Toby from to take him to a pizza place.

On some of these occasions, Toby had talked as if he’d had a dose of laughing gas. On others, he said almost nothing, cutting his pizza into an unnecessary number of little strips, and waiting for Gavin to say, as he always uselessly said, ‘Well, where would you like to go now?’

Toby never knew. He would take gulps of his Coca-Cola and make don’t-know faces. The contrast between the anticipation and the reality of Gavin’s visits left him bereft of ideas, let alone the means of expressing them. Usually Gavin would watch him in an unpractised way for a while and then say, ‘If I was a member at Stamford Bridge, at least we could go there. But as I’m not, we can’t,’ and he’d give a little bark of laughter. Toby didn’t join in. He knew Gavin had three other children, three daughters, and they somehow joined in those outings with Gavin in a shadowy, insistent way, like moths pattering against a hot lampshade. They had names that Toby took care not to remember in any easily accessible parts of his mind. They were obviously the ones that Gavin was in tune with, the ones who never got asked where they would like to go, because it was never necessary.

Usually, they walked. They walked the streets so familiar to Toby, past shops he saw every day, the manicurist, and the ironmonger where, on weekdays, the ladders and buckets on display on the pavement were chained together like a convict gang, the antique shop full of dusty Far Eastern idols and a pearl-lined shell as big as a small canoe, the herbalist who offered acupuncture. Gavin didn’t try to take Toby’s hand on these walks, although he put his on Toby’s shoulder as they crossed streets, and so Toby would walk sufficiently apart from him in order to make hand-holding out of the question. On the way back — Gavin was always checking his watch, always saying, ‘We must stick by the arrangement, mustn’t we?’ in a way that made Toby despair — they always passed Eleanor’s house, and if he could see her fuzz of white hair through the sitting-room window a drop of cool comfort fell into the hot bile engendered by the afternoon. Sometimes she looked up and saw him and she would take one hand away from the book or paper she was reading and raise it in a kind of salute.

‘Do odd jobs for her, do you?’ Gavin said, his voice a shade too hearty.

‘No,’ Toby said. Eleanor was not somehow for sharing. ‘No, she does them herself.’

Since they came to live in the loft, however, things had changed. The loft was a change in itself, of course, the result of something happening to Gavin’s job that meant he could buy them the loft and be photographed on a boat and give Toby a computer. But the loft had changed Paula too, had meant that she had found the courage to apply for, and get, the job of managing the Indonesian furniture shop, and that she now found excuses not to spend too much time in Eleanor’s sitting room.

‘I want to look after her now,’ she said to Toby. ‘I want to pay her back a bit.’

Toby thought Eleanor liked being in her own house. There was something about the way she looked round the loft, whenever she came, that made him think she found it faintly — well, funny really. And the sofas were too low. You could see that. It needed Toby and Paula together to get Eleanor out of the sofas.

Paula came out of her bedroom. Her dark hair was pinned up in a spiky ball behind her head and she was wearing shoes Toby hadn’t seen before. Black with red heels. He regarded them with disapproval.

‘Toby?’

He said nothing. Paula picked up a box of long matches and began to light the scattering of tea-light candles across the low table.

‘I don’t think Noah’s coming tonight,’ Paula said.‘Only Poppy. So there’ll just be you two children.’

Toby stared at the little flotilla of tiny flames.

‘But that’s OK, isn’t it? Poppy likes your theatre.’ Privately Toby quite liked Poppy. At six, she was two years younger than he was, and spoke in an intense whisper. Her mother, Blaise’s friend Karen, said that this was because her infinitely competent older sister was always shushing her. But Poppy was not the kind of child who would ever have taken kindly to being shushed, for whatever reason. Poppy talked all the time, and if she did so in a whisper there was no point or logic in telling her to shut up.

‘OK,’ Toby said.

Paula walked away towards the kitchen part of the loft. The red heels were quite high and she didn’t walk very steadily. Toby watched her open the door of the big new fridge and stand looking inside as if she was considering something.

She glanced towards him.

‘I even bought you and Poppy some Coke,’ Paula said. ‘As a treat.’

Toby began to inch down the steps, arching his back and balancing on his hands and feet.

‘OK.’

‘That’s not a very gracious response to a treat, is it?’

Toby reached the floor with his feet.

‘Why is it a treat?’

‘Because it’s Friday night–’

‘You don’t usually–’

‘Toby,’ Paula said, ‘I don’t know what’s eating you, but don’t take it out on me.’

Toby got to his feet.

‘Why can’t we go round to Eleanor’s?’

‘Because it’s my turn. Because I like having everyone here. Because Lindsay is coming early.’

Toby began to walk along one of the lines between the floor-planking as if it was a tightrope.

‘Is Jules coming?’

‘I don’t know. You never do know, with Jules.’

She took a bottle out of the fridge and began hunting in a drawer for a corkscrew. Toby watched his greytrainered feet flip down in a moving line, one foot after the other. The line ended up a short distance away from Paula. She held the corkscrew out.

‘You should learn to do this.’

‘I’m not allowed wine,’ Toby said babyishly.

‘Yes, you are. With water. If I say so. Anyway, taking corks out of bottles is something you have to learn to do. Come and try.’

Toby wanted to try. He hung back, his feet still arranged toe to heel.

‘Come on.’

‘I’m coming.’

‘It’s no big deal,’ Paula said. ‘It’s just useful.’

Toby put his arms out to balance his position.

‘OK.’

‘Do you behave like this at school? If so, I wonder why Miss Wingate, or whatever she’s called, doesn’t want to throttle you.’

Toby unjammed his feet.

‘I expect she does.’

‘Do you like her?’

Toby looked agonized.

‘I dunno–’

‘What does she look like?’

Toby’s expression changed from agonized to appalled.

‘What does Miss Wingate look like? Tall? Short? Fat? Thin? Short hair? Long hair?’

Toby took the corkscrew and flapped its metal arms up and down.

‘I didn’t look.’

Paula took the hand that was holding the corkscrew and held it above the bottle.

‘I’ve taken the foil off. That plug in there, dumbo, is the cork. What do you think I look like?’

Toby jabbed the corkscrew down at the bottle and missed.

He shouted, ‘Don’t ask me this stuff!’

He heard Paula catch her breath, a long, slow intake. Never a good sign. She took his hand again and held it, painfully hard.

‘To think I have all adolescence to get through and you haven’t even got there yet. Put your left hand on the bottle.’

Toby didn’t move.

‘Do as you are told!’ Paula said loudly.

Toby put his hand on the bottle, very slowly. It was cold and hard and wet.

‘Ugh,’ he said.

‘Now, centre the screw on the cork. Carefully.’

She pushed his right hand downwards. Her nails dug into the skin of his hand.

‘Ow–’

‘In the middle. The absolute middle. Now push. To get the tip in, before you turn.’

Toby pushed, the tip of the screw skidded sideways and knocked the bottle over.

‘Dear God–’ Paula said.

The doorbell rang. The bottle rolled slowly to the edge of the kitchen table and Toby caught it, using a reflex he had had no intention of employing. Paula said nothing to him. She ran unevenly across to the intercom in her red heels and pressed the buzzer that released the street door.

‘Come on up,’ she said into the intercom, ‘before I murder Toby.’

Toby set the bottle upright on the table, inserted the corkscrew, twisted it down, flipped the metal levers and pulled the cork out. Paula came back to the kitchen.

She looked at the extracted cork.

‘You little sod.’

Toby shrugged.

‘What was all that about?’

Toby shrugged again. Paula took him by the shoulders and bent to look in his face.

‘Answer me. What was all that about?’

Toby said truthfully, ‘I don’t know.’

‘Is it school? Has anyone upset you? Are you being bullied?’

The front doorbell rang.

‘We’ll talk about this,’ Paula said. ‘We’ll talk about this tomorrow. In the meantime, just try and behave. Just try. OK?’

Toby gave the smallest of nods. Paula let go of his shoulders and ran across to the front door. Lindsay was standing there in her beige hooded coat with a carrier in her hand.

She said, kissing Paula, laughing, ‘What’s he done?’ Paula didn’t look at Toby.

She said, ‘I asked him to describe what I looked like and he couldn’t. I could wear orange-peel teeth and a green fright wig and he wouldn’t notice.’

‘I would,’ Toby said, under his breath.

Lindsay took her coat off. She looked round her.

‘This is so great. I love coming here.’ She held out the carrier bag. ‘These are for you. I know you like big candles.’ She looked towards the kitchen and she called, ‘Hi, Toby. Noah says to say hi too,’ and then she looked down at Paula’s feet and she said, ‘Wow. Hot shoes.’

Paula was looking in the carrier bag.

‘These are lovely. Just what I like.’ She glanced at her feet and gave a little giggle. ‘I know.’

Lindsay bent closer.

‘Come on, then.’

Paula bent her head too.

‘Well . . .’

‘Come on,’ Lindsay said, ‘come on. You said come early, so I’ve come. Tell me–’

Paula shifted a little on her red heels.

There was a pause, and then she said, in quite a low voice, but with a pride and a thrill in it that made Toby, standing by the kitchen table, feel suddenly sick, ‘He’s called Jackson.’

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Toby is angry with Paula ‘for something he couldn’t put his finger on’ (p.7)

Why is Toby so angry? How and why does his anger change towards the end of the book?

2. ‘Perhaps [Karen] should talk to Eleanor, or at least talk her way through the confusion of her thoughts in Eleanor’s presence’ (p.208)

What role does talking play in Friday Nights? Do different characters — men, women and children — have different approaches to communication?

3. ‘“Can’t a man give you something to believe in?”
“No”’

Paula’s boss is unequivocal about men’s role in women’s lives. (p.35)

Would you say that Joanna Trollope shares this view in Friday Nights? Is this a cynical book? Or a feminist one? Or simply refreshingly realistic?

4. Consider the following passages. Each is written from the standpoint of a third person narrator, yet look at any variations in tone, language, style and perspective. What is Joanna Trollope aiming to achieve here and elsewhere in Friday Nights? Is it a successful technique?

‘Toby kicked one foot clumsily against the other. Then he went out of his mother’s bedroom and banged the door shut and leaned against it. This door, his mother’s bedroom door was one of only a few doors in the flat. There was just that door, and the front door and the door of the bathroom. The rest was just space. Upwards, outwards, sideways. Just space.’ (p.7)

‘Many women – most women, even – would seize the day and the scrubbing brush and hang new curtains. Eleanor was not such a woman. New curtains would do nothing for her except cause great irritation. No, she realised … the adjustment to this new stage of life was not going to come from without. It was going to have to come from within. She was going to have to look at life quite differently; she was going to have to look at people, at types of people, she had never looked at before. She was going to have to — as a human being without the restful authenticity conferred by an acknowledged professional position — go out there and make friends — quite naked, as it were.’ (p.72)

‘Rose and Poppy shared a bedroom at the top of their house. It was a tall, thin house … and the girls’ room was the highest of all. Their father had painted a landscape round the walls — forests and a castle and jungle beasts and a unicorn — and a starry sky on the ceiling. When they were older, he said, he would replace the unicorn and the tigers with rock stars and cover the night sky with psychedelic patterns. Rose said what was psychedelic and Lucas said intoxicating and narcotic, and Rose said what was intoxicating and narcotic, and Lucas said drunk and drugged and both girls fell on the floor squealing and rolled their eyes.’ (pp.61-62)

‘Jules said nothing. She lay on the dirty carpet with her phone to her ear and her eyes closed and smiled. It didn’t matter. Two hundred quid didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. She had done two hours and she had done good.’ (p.93)

5. Lindsay feels she needs to apologise for Jules who ‘seemed to have inherited her parents’ taste for a wild and irresponsible life’ (p.13)

Were you surprised by Jules by the end of the book? Does she change, and if so, how and why?

6. Consider the various father figures in Friday Nights. Are there any ‘good fathers’? How do they compare to the mothers?

7. Does Eleanor’s lack of experience with men account for her level-headedness, or vice versa? Are sense and romance always mutually exclusive in Friday Nights?

8. ‘When it came to malevolence, Blaise thought, women were often the worst. Women could be both subtle and ingenious in their spite’ (p. 53)

Is Blaise proven right in the context of the novel? Do you agree with her?

9. Why does Jackson’s appearance on the scene cause such chaos? Does he create problems or just bring them to the surface? Ultimately, is he what everyone in the book needed?

10. ‘It was clear to Rose that this money thing was a burden to her mother but also that it gave her a kind of power’ (p.64)

How important is money in the book, both in terms of driving the plot and affecting the characters? Is it a force for good or bad, or both?

11. ‘Toby thought Eleanor liked being in her own house’ (p.22)

Who else needs their personal space in Friday Nights? Why does it matter so much?

12. Joanna Trollope has said that if she were asked to write a social code of conduct she would emphasise that with rights come responsibilities. Who carries the responsibilities in this book? And who enjoys the freest rights? What happens when the two don’t go hand in hand?

13. What did you make of Fiona’s arrival in the book? What are her motivations in helping Paula?

14. ‘[Eleanor] was going to have to – as a human being without the restful authenticity conferred by an acknowledged professional position – go out there and make friends – quite naked, as it were.’ (p.72)

Why naked? Consider the various ways that women dress themselves up in Friday Nights. What do they have to hide? Why is the ‘outward self’ (p.73) so important? Can it be misleading?

15. Work-life balance is a major theme in Friday Nights. Who gets it right?

16. Look at Eleanor and Paula’s phone conversation on pp.148-150 with particular reference to both women’s attitude, self expression and self confidence. Could each woman be considered representative of her generation? If so, how exactly? Why does Paula care what Eleanor thinks of her?

17. Joanna Trollope researched Friday Nights by going to nightclubs and talking to DJs. Does she pull it off?

18. ‘It was odd, Paula thought, how much more attracted she was to men with a sulphuric whiff of danger about them than to safe men’ (p.133)

Does Paula’s attitude surprise you? Why is she so much more attracted to ‘bad’ men, do you think?

19. Why does Karen think that life can leave the modern woman ‘inconsolable’ (p.221)? Does it have anything to do with the issue of ‘female entitlement’ that Eleanor identifies on p.311? Is ‘female entitlement’ at the heart of all the problems in Friday Nights? Why should some women prove more susceptible to it than others?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    Just plain dull...

    I always enjoyed all of Joanna Trollope's books but this one did not interest me. Too many characters and detail...was not inviting.

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2008

    Not up to her previous work

    I am a big Trollope fan and have read most everything she's written in the past. This book is nowhere near as good as prior efforts. The characters seem like stereotypes and I had trouble really caring about what happened to them. Hope she gets back to her usual sterling form with her next novel.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 30, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Read as usual. I was not disappointed.

    Great Read as usual. I was not disappointed.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 26, 2011

    Excellent, delicious book

    Even if Joanna Trollope wasn't a master at plot lines, which she is, I'd read her books just for her writing style. Her characters are so lifelike and believable they leap off the page. In fact, I'm going to re-read this book right now!

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Friday Nights

    This is the first time reading anything by this author. It was slow reading but it did pick up near the end. I felt sympathy for Paula's character. She had an out of control son and man who did't want to make any commitments. The other characters seem to bring the story full circle especially Elenor's character. She was the matriach of the group. All the women seemed to rely on her for advice.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Not great.

    I didn't like the dialog, or lack of. There was no real conversations, but instead 1-word answers. I love all books just for the sake of reading but I couldn't wait for this one to be over. The characters were blah and ere was no depth or real story, certainly no climax. I would not recommend this book at all. Waste of my time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    Horrible

    It's on sale for a reason.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Not Good

    The characters were all over the place, I found myself not liking any of them. The story jumped from one character to another with no transition. Very hard to Get into any of the plot lines. I wouldn't buy another book from this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2012

    One must like to think to enjoy this book The story is for women

    One must like to think to enjoy this book
    The story is for women about women and our relationships. I took my time reading it and found it very fulfilling.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2012

    Interesting Summer Read

    Nicely written dynamic among the women. Easy read. Moves along smoothly- not too predictable.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    Very entertaining

    I found the story to be poignant character study of other characters. Made me want to know more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Good Read

    Friday Nights was an okay book, good read, just jumps a lot to different characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lovely characters

    a lovely read showing how friendships among women are constantly in flux - brings to mind the poem that says people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, when you figure out which one it is,
    you will know what to do for each person.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2012

    certainly not a page turner

    found it difficult to get into.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 28, 2012

    Good Read

    Friday Nights was a quick read. It was easy to get to know the characters and to form a relationship with them. Bittersweet-the way life is. I would like to read more from Joanna Trollope.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    good read

    good read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    Stupid!

    Everybody who thinks it's bad i think they are right. The author had bad poorly lame idea. I would NOT be suprized if this was his first and only book. I cant bejieve this scope for the book. Its not that good. I aggree with it being on sale. I mean people they put worse books for less. You can not see the characters and settig in your head. You cant make the movie in your mind. The author is hardly desriptive and you hardly know what is going on. I want to flush this book down the toilet. Plus who would want to read a book called Friday Night because it sounds like a little kids book. Oh wait it is. An adult or even a toddler will not uunderstand this story. Bye bye now.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2012

    B

    G

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews

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